Race Review: Great North Run 2022

I’ve been conscious recently that ‘race review’ is probably a bad title for these posts, because I’m not really doing much reviewing of the race itself – more reflecting on my own race and what went well and what went badly. As such, I’ll start with a few thoughts on the GNR 2022. It was a very different atmosphere at the start with all the reflection and observance of the national mourning period, but once we were underway – down to South Shields on the traditional route for the first time in three years – it felt like it had never been away. I did miss the Red Arrows, but I’m sure they’ll be back next year when – hopefully – we can finally have a totally normal GNR again.

Semi-hopeful on the start line.

My training had mostly gone well. I missed a few weeks early in the plan, as I realised I had started training again too soon after the Edinburgh Marathon and needed a bit more time to recover, but I had really pulled it back over the last six weeks or so – I did all my long runs and developed a good speedwork routine by getting some initial miles done in my new pair of speed shoes, joining the local social run group on Fridays (their easy pace is a fairly good lick for me!) and attempting some faster parkrun times. I also started medication for my ankylosing spondylitis, which was working really well and meant that my lower back, hips, glutes and sciatic nerves didn’t seem to be stiff and sore anymore. Best of all, I found a new and promising fuelling strategy that didn’t make me feel sick (Clif Shot Blokz instead of gels). Unfortunately my strength training routine did suffer as I was so busy with travelling and other things over the summer, and it became really difficult to find that half hour to fit it in.

It was really only the last week of the taper that I started to become nervous about possible niggles that might affect the race. My back pain had been a little bit twingy on some of my long runs during training, but not to the extent that it was affecting my running – it was just a bit of background annoyance that I could ignore. However, I really felt it properly seize up just after I sprinted for the line at Pendle parkrun, eight days before GNR day. I was worried, but it returned to its vague background level for my six-miler along the canal the following morning, so I assumed it would be fine for the race.

That afternoon, I got in the car to drive back from Lancashire to Newcastle. A few hours later, I climbed out of the driver’s seat to find myself with killer runner’s knee out of absolutely nowhere! No idea whether it was the sprint at Pendle parkrun, the dodgy camber along the Leeds-Liverpool Canal towpath or just straining a bit too hard to keep the clutch in the right place during the drive, but I’ve never had it just appear like that before! Panic stations that evening, but as usual with runner’s knee for me, I found during my next few days of short runs that it didn’t actually hurt during running – just when I sat down and stiffened up. However, my back pain was noticeable all week, probably because my form was thrown out by unconsciously compensating for my knee. I did a lot of extra strength training and massage gun work during the week, focusing on my knee and back – and I found that race pace was comfortable and unproblematic on my short runs – but while the knee pain had dissipated by Friday, the back pain clearly wasn’t going away. I just had to hope that it would remain a background-level pain and wouldn’t cause any stiffening during the weekend.

I deliberately took my last shakeout run (en route to parkrun volunteering) very slowly. However, I found that I was stiff and slow during the walk around the Jesmond Dene course and back home – and even more stiff and slow on the walk from home to the GNR start area the following morning. It wasn’t promising, but I always see races through, so I set off in the hope that I would at least be able to stay steady.

The first couple of miles were fine. I started off a bit fast, but settled into my pace by the second mile, and if I’d been able to keep going like that it would have been a great day. However, by mile three everything between mid-back and mid-thigh had seized up into one giant inflexible piece, which was causing a lot of other issues further down, especially with my feet. I had no choice but to switch to a run-walk strategy to mitigate the pain. I was determined to keep running sometimes, as I hadn’t mentally managed to do that during the second half of the Edinburgh Marathon, but the race for me between miles three and twelve was about a 2:1 walk-run ratio. I couldn’t walk briskly either, and I had a lot of concerned comments during my walk periods, as I must have looked really strange trying to walk in my seized-up state. Running was an awkward shufflejog, but at least there were a few other people doing that too.

Following this strategy, I was able to stay steady-ish (if extremely slow) – and I did manage to shufflejog the whole last mile along the seafront – but I was in a lot of pain and went to a lot of dark places during the many hours it took me to complete the course. I was seriously questioning if I should continue with running, and to be honest I am still having those thoughts three days later. It just felt so fruitless. I had trained for this race and yet I might as well have not trained at all – I would have been no slower, and possibly faster as I wouldn’t have aggravated my back pain in the last few weeks of the plan. I had desperately wanted to get close to my PB again, and I ended up well over an hour outside it. I had two A races this year – both of which were really important to me – and my medical issues ruined both of them.

Mentally, I was looking forward to the post-GNR period as I had decided a long time ago that it would be my last race of 2022 – I wanted a good long rest in the autumn before starting marathon training again in the new year – but I’ve just felt horrible this week. I don’t feel like I properly ended my season, my medal and t-shirt don’t feel earned, and I desperately want another chance to get the result I feel I should have had – but I just don’t think it would be sensible, mentally or physically, to sign up for another race this year.

I’m also really quite worried about next year’s goal races – spring marathon and then GNR again. It was mostly the back pain that did me in at Edinburgh this year, but there were a lot of other issues with that race – injuries during training, nausea caused by fuelling – that contributed to the wheels coming off. At the GNR, it was the spondylitis alone. I can do everything I can to try and mitigate it, but I can never guarantee that I won’t suffer from it on the day of a race. I suppose I’ll always have that worry now, and a lot of it really is down to luck.

Three things I can do and will continue to do to try and mitigate the spondylitis:

  • Keep taking the medication, as it does work 95% of the time
  • Prioritise my strength training, which means not booking as much travel as I have this year (travelling is the number one cause of training interference for me)
  • Lose weight (as when I was at my target weight I barely suffered with this issue at all) – it’s a slow process but I am determined

Three things to take away from this race and training block:

  • Spring marathon needs to be early May at the latest as I need time to recover in between training blocks – Edinburgh and GNR were too close together for proper recovery
  • I will continue running with the social group as it’s both great speed training and a good source of motivation due to the friendly people there
  • No sprint finishes at parkrun in the fortnight before the race! (I just really wanted that Pendle PB…)

I’m in the Pyrenees this week, where there are no such things as flat roads. Walking and running on the hills is hard with my back issues, and I think I would have been able to enjoy the trip more if I hadn’t gone straight after the GNR. As such, not going on travels straight after a race is probably a good lesson to learn as well. Nevertheless, it is a calm and beautiful place for reflecting on things.

I’m not quitting running just yet. Apart from anything else, it’s only twelve days until my ‘comma day’ – the thousandth day of my daily run streak – and I want to continue post-1,000 as it’s another good source of motivation. But there are a few things I need to think about this winter, and a few changes I need to make.

Race Review: Great North Run 2021

It was so great to be back yesterday after last year’s virtual version!

It wasn’t a fully normal GNR. Due to various issues such as the Tyne and Wear Metro not wanting tens of thousands of people crowding onto the Metro in South Shields after the race, the course was changed so that instead of running to South Shields, we all turned back at the halfway point and returned to Newcastle. To avoid the usual crowding, we were also all set off in waves, with the elite wheelchair athletes setting off at 9:15am and the last of the mass runners not starting till after 1pm, so it really was a full-day event (especially for the spectators and volunteers, who all did brilliantly – the charity cheering points were still in full voice when I was going round between 11ish and 2ish!).

The expectation is that things will be fully back to normal next year. However, I am so glad that it was able to go ahead this year, even in an altered form, and in some ways there were a few advantages – due to Geth being allocated a slightly later wave than me, I was able to wave to him when he overtook me at three miles and again when I spotted him going the other way on the out-and-back at about five and a half miles, whereas we don’t see each other en route at all when it’s the normal course. It was also nice to be able to walk home from the finish on the Town Moor rather than having to queue for the Metro!

Red Arrows
It was amazing to see the Red Arrows again while waiting on the start line! They had to miss the 2019 race due to other commitments, so it’s been three years since we last saw them.

There were some tough uphills in the ‘unknown’ section (the last part of the run around central Gateshead and Newcastle), but I had expected that, knowing the area, and due to my slow plodding pace I didn’t really mind them (I’ve been doing a lot of hills in my marathon training so it was fine). I knew as soon as I saw them that Geth wouldn’t have liked them, though, which was confirmed by him complaining about them for the rest of the day!

I was about half an hour slower than my half marathon PB, but that’s just the way it is at the moment – marathon training has slowed my pace right down, and given that getting round London is my main goal for this season, it wasn’t the right time to race a half marathon properly. I’ll stick to spring marathons in the future so that I can tackle the GNR at full speed in future years! However, because of all the postponements from last year, races just had to fall where they fell this year rather than me planning out the season as I usually would. I’m just grateful to have them back at the moment.

Back to South Shields next year, which I’m sure will be just as much of a return party as yesterday was!

And in the meantime, for me, onwards to London…

parkrunday: Jesmond Dene #30

It’s the Great North Run tomorrow so I opted to volunteer at parkrun in order to save my energy. It was a busy one at Jesmond Dene, as expected, as (a) the GNR is setting up on the Town Moor for the special COVID course, meaning that Town Moor parkrun was off today; (b) there are thousands of running tourists in town for the aforementioned GNR, many of whom would be looking for a pre-GNR parkrun; and (c) lots of those tourists would be naturally drawn to Jesmond Dene as it provides a rare opportunity to collect a parkrun beginning with J (yes, alphabet-hunting is a thing in the parkrun universe).

It seemed like it all went okay though! The core team were very well prepared and marshalling at the lap split point was really fun. A few people got confused but everyone ended up on the right path for the lap they were doing at the time!

Geth was marshalling too (also saving energy) and so this morning’s run took the form of a nice slow jog to the volunteer meeting point.

parkrun volunteering

I was also pleased that the weather was nice today, unlike the previous two occasions I’ve volunteered at Jesmond Dene since the restart!

Back to Town Moor next week, hopefully sporting a brand new GNR finisher T-shirt…

Race Review: Virtual Great North Run 2020

Finally getting round to reviewing a virtual race from last September – one of the highlights of my running season in 2020!

I keep referring to this race officially – in Strava logs and the like – as ‘Virtual Great North Run 2020’, as it keeps things neat. However, I fervently hope that there will only ever be one ‘Virtual Great North Run’, that the race can go back to normal(ish) in 2021, and that appending the ‘2020’ will forever be unnecessary!

GNR 2019
A picture from happier times, in South Shields after the Great North Run in 2019.

For most of 2020, despite the fact that in-person races had to cease along with everything else when we went into lockdown in March, I avoided virtual races. Virtual races have been a thing since long before the pandemic – the idea is that you pay the ‘race entry’ fee, run the distance wherever you like, send in your Strava log or similar as proof, and receive a medal in the post for your medal hanger/kitchen drawer/wherever you keep your medals. I’ve never been keen on the idea, because in normal circumstances I don’t see the point. If I’m paying a race entry fee, I want the experience of a real race – the crowds, the adrenaline, the excitement, the music, the fact that I automatically go faster when running with other people, the cheering spectators, the sights along the route, the atmosphere of the finish line… I could go on and on. I really, really miss real races 🙁

For some people, though, virtual races are ideal. There are people who can’t attend races on Sunday mornings due to other commitments, or who don’t like being in crowds – so it’s great that virtual races exist and can cater to these people. I’m just not the target audience, in normal circumstances.

However, we are far from normal circumstances.

The big coronavirus-related anxiety for me over the summer was the question of whether the rescheduled October date for the London Marathon would be going ahead. In a nutshell, as I already blogged lots and lots about this at the time: they took ages to announce; they eventually announced it was going virtual for 2020; I was able to defer my ‘real London Marathon’ place to 2021; I also accepted the invitation to run the virtual race in 2020 as I wanted to do it as a ‘mile(ish) every hour for 24 hours’ challenge. Sorted. I had signed up for my very first virtual race.

Virtual GNR bib
There was the option to print out your own race number. Now framed with all my others!

The Great North Run had cancelled their in-person race and announced they were going virtual for 2020 quite some time before the London announcement. When this announcement was first made (in June, I think?), I didn’t expect to do the virtual. Every cancelled race I had originally been signed up for in 2020 had invited me to do a virtual version in exchange for a race entry fee, and I hadn’t taken any of them up on the offer – because, as explained above, I don’t normally see the point in virtual races.

However, after signing up for the Virtual London Marathon, I felt that it would be a good idea to commit myself to a half marathon length run, as it would be good training – even though I knew I would be running the marathon in a different way that wouldn’t require quite as much all-in-one-go endurance. I had kept meaning to run half marathon length runs over the summer, but none of them had ever transpired due to lack of motivation, so I decided to sign up to the Virtual GNR in order to make sure that I actually did it.

The other reason was that the excitement of planning my 24-hour challenge had made me realise how much I was missing races. A virtual race, while still a glorified training run in my world, would at least help to give some structure to my running over the next couple of months.

GNR t-shirts
T-shirts from previous Great North Weekends (2015-2019). I did the 5k the first year we lived in Newcastle, and have done the full GNR every year since.

A few days after signing up, I happened to bump (not literally, I am a good social distancer) into a running friend while out on my Sunday long run, and as a result was invited to join the informal Sunday GNR training runs that were being organised by members of the local social run group. I’d attended a couple of the group’s formal runs around late February, just before everything shut down, but hadn’t realised that there were still some informally-organised socially distanced runs going on. (They’ve had to stop again since the lockdowns have become stricter over the autumn and winter, sadly!)

Virtual GNR outfit
All set for the Virtual GNR. Club vest and special Lucy Locket Loves GNR leggings on!

I enjoyed the Sunday training runs, which were at a pace that was a bit faster than my usual solo bumbling, but manageable for me, and decided to run the actual race with the group as well. It was a great atmosphere at our ‘starting area’, with perhaps fifteen or twenty people from the group all running in a socially distanced way (this was before even the ‘rule of six’ came in, let alone the return to full lockdown… so much has changed again in the last few months!).

Chalk start line
Start line marked in chalk on the pavement!

The group’s starting pace on the day was a little fast for me, it turned out. The first 5k of the race was the fastest I’d run since before parkrun shut down, and the first 10k of the race was a lifetime 10k PB for me of 1:03:30. This is really promising in terms of my aim to manage a sub-hour 10k in 2021… but was absolutely not something I should have been doing in the first half of a half marathon! I was focusing too much on keeping up with the group rather than running at my own pace – and, as I did know the route, I should maybe have told them to go ahead and fallen back to a more comfortable pace for me.

As a result, I burnt out and fell apart a bit in the second half of the race. The rest of the group gradually disappeared, and at about ten or eleven miles in I told group leader Alan (who was lovely and kept waiting for me) that he could go ahead and I’d finish a bit later. The last couple of miles were pretty difficult and slow and I kept taking walk breaks, which I hadn’t needed to do in a half marathon for some time. Geth came to meet me at about twelve and a half miles, and I just about managed to run-walk to the end of the planned route. My official time as measured by the GNR app was 2:25:29 – only a couple of minutes slower than my PB from the Inverness half in the different world that was early March, so I had to take that as a victory given everything that had happened in 2020! I stopped my watch at about 2 hours 29 minutes once it said I’d done the full half marathon distance, and I think I ran over the planned route finishing line at about 2 hours 32 minutes. All of those times were faster than any other half I’ve done apart from Inverness, so in terms of finish time, I can’t complain.

Virtual GNR t-shirt
The Virtual GNR t-shirt is one of the nicest yet.

I was a little disappointed with myself about the pacing as I like to finish strong in races, but to some extent it was out of my control. I originally planned to do another half marathon distance run before the end of the year, just to see what I could do when completely in charge of my own pacing, but I ended up needing a couple of months to recover from my 24-hour challenge/Virtual London Marathon. I need to build up again over the first few months of 2021.

Virtual GNR medal
Nice heavy medal for the effort too!

Besides, I’ll also be focusing on 10k training for the next couple of months, with the aim of being ready to get that sub-hour result later this year. It doesn’t look likely that I’ll be doing any real races any time soon… but it turns out a virtual race isn’t the end of the world, so I’ve signed up to do a virtual 10k later in January.

I still can’t wait to get back to real races!

Race Review: Great North Run 2019

I’ve had a week to digest this year’s Great North Run now!

First of all, it feels like it was absolutely the right decision for me to make the Great North Run the final race of my running season for 2019. I’ve finished on a high, at a point when I’m still really enthused about running, so I really feel like I have a good chance of avoiding the winter running slump this year, as I won’t be burning myself out training for races later in autumn.

The weather was ridiculously hot for the fifth year running. What is up with that? I first noticed it in 2015 when it poured down as I was doing the Great North 5k on the Saturday and then got stupidly warm in time for the main event on the Sunday. It’s the north-east of England – it shouldn’t be guaranteed hot weather in September!

However, it was the first time I felt properly in control during a half marathon. I went out too fast in the first two or three miles – probably due to starting in a faster wave – and I did slow down a little during miles eight to eleven, but I had planned for that, and I knew I was still on track for a PB. In the end, my time was 2:36:32, which was four minutes and seven seconds off my previous best. I was really happy with that! Next target: sub 2:35.

Great North Run 2019 medal
This one gets a little weightier and more colourful every year!

I will definitely be back next year for the 40th Great North Run!

Another GNR done!

I had a great GNR today and got a half marathon PB! Will do a full post about it in the next couple of days.

Absolutely knackered now, and am somehow still hungry even after demolishing a Domino’s pizza order. Looking forward to a recovery day tomorrow!

OOTD 8th September 2019
OOTD: tired but happy in my newest addition to my wardrobe! Glasses Emporio Armani (2017), t-shirt Great North Run (2019).

Today’s earworm playlist:

Van Morrison – Brown Eyed Girl
Chesney Hawkes – The One And Only
Matthew Wilder – Break My Stride
Coldplay – Viva La Vida
Dua Lipa – New Rules
Oasis – Wonderwall
Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse – Valerie
DNCE – Cake By The Ocean

The running begins

I went for a shakeout parkrun this morning, which was nice – it’s always a good atmosphere at Newcastle parkrun on GNR weekend. Felt really comfortable and absolutely ready for the race tomorrow now.

After catching up with some admin, Geth and I played a couple more missions of the Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth boardgame, and I’m now settling in for an evening of Strictly and Puzzle Pirates.

I’ll update about the race tomorrow evening!

Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth
Not an OOTD: gratuitous token shot for the boardgame.

Today’s earworm playlist:

Philip Bailey and Phil Collins – Easy Lover
Mike & The Mechanics – The Living Years
Duran Duran – Girl Panic!
Rizzle Kicks – Mama Do The Hump
Muse – New Born
Michael Land – Jojo The Monkey

Great North Weekend

I’ve spent all day doing editing work for clients and sorting out my to-do list, but I’m finally done and Great North Weekend is here! It won’t be as intense as it usually is as there’s no CityGames athletics to watch on the Quayside this year (they’ve moved the event to Stockton-on-Tees for some reason), but I’m still looking forward to a shakeout parkrun tomorrow morning, eating all the pasta (may have started already) and watching the Strictly launch show before getting an early night ready for the race on Sunday.

In the meantime, it’s another evening of escaping into my videogames. I’m finding that it’s really helping me to relax at the moment.

Not an OOTD: Geth has found a version of Tetris on the Switch that has the best upbeat dance version of the classic theme tune. Can’t watch the screen, though, ’cause I just keep getting frustrated by his placement choices!

Today’s earworm playlist:

Michael Land – Woodtick
Arcadia – The Flame

Still escaping

It’s been an okay-ish day. I had a good loss at Slimming World this morning (not sure how, but I’m relieved to be losing again after a few consecutive weeks of gain!) and have been writing all afternoon. Geth is out boardgaming this evening, so I will be going back to my videogames.

Work all day tomorrow and then it’s Great North Run weekend!

OOTD 5th September 2019
OOTD: my favourite top for weigh-in. Glasses Emporio Armani (2017), hoodie Uneek Classic for Mesh (2016), vest top Primark (2018).

Today’s earworm playlist:

Timecop1983 and The Bad Dreamers – Back To You
Duran Duran – Rio
Disney – Prince Ali*
Shakin’ Stevens – Green Door
Pretenders – Back On The Chain Gang
The Beatles – Drive My Car

*Still the 1994 videogame soundtrack version 🙂